Aux armes, et cætera
July 2, 2014 11:51 PM   Subscribe

From the album of the same name recorded in Jamaica in 1979, Serge Gainsbourg smokes, samples and sings "La Marseillaise" to a loping reggae beat, leaves out some words and titles it "Aux armes, et cætera", thereby deeply offending some of his co-citoyens. I was recently discussing the Marseillaise with a French person, who linked me to Gainsbourg's version. My friend agreed that musically his country's national anthem was wonderful, but said the violence of the lyrics disgusted him. It's interesting to consider a nation's official anthem in the cultural and political setting of its birth, and then contrast with the present day.

Here is the full, official "Marsellaise" with French/English subtitles.

My country, Australia, acquired its anthem "Advance Australia Fair" in 1984. (Up till then we sang "God save the Queen", which I still can't hear without a momentary impulse to stand, even though I stopped doing it in the '60s.) We weren't in the midst of war and revolution, unlike the French in 1795, when the Convention decreed Rouget de Lisle's 1792 marching song "Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin" the anthem of the fledgling republic.

Ours also began life as a song, dating from 1878, which began "Australia's sons let us rejoice ..." This was changed in 1984 to "Australians all ..." and its more militaristic portions excised. Few of us know all the words to the second verse by heart - mind you my heart couldn't sing "For those who've come across the seas We've boundless plains to share" and not burn with shame for my country's actual record on "sharing".

Further to this topic I have discovered many people like to compile national anthem top tens.
posted by valetta (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this post!

Here is the Gainsbourg album in question, streaming on Grooveshark, should you want more dubby Serge.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:59 PM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, that Gainsbourg link is great!

I was once the sole native French speaker in a French choir (in Melbourne), and I had to translate La Marseillaise A few years ago. "Let impure blood quench the thirst of our soil"? I feel weird just typing it out...
posted by third word on a random page at 12:35 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would be interesting to compile a list of subverted versions of national anthems. The Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen and Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner come to mind quickly (as well as Hendrix's "English and American combined National Anthem" at Monterey, and an interesting hoax Hendrix Welsh National Anthem which surfaced a few years ago). Any other good ones?
posted by iotic at 1:28 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this wonderful post, I'm just compiling a playlist for the holiday in France and this is exactly what I'm looking for. You just gotta love The Serge.

I'm with iotic and I offer you the jumpstyle version of the Wilhelmus, the Dutch national Anthem, by DJ Patrick.
posted by ouke at 1:49 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tactical deployment of La Marseillaise in 'Casablanca'. It is still one of the best tunes of any national anthems - and I think the world still sorely misses having a reggae N/A of any sort - so Gainsbourg was a prescient as ever.

While we are talking about French nationalism I'd recommend a look at footage of the annual Défilé 14 Juillet - a huge annual parade in Paris where it seems that every uniformed person in France (and the tax pays for many, it seems) puts in an appearance. Here is the 2012 one if you have 2 hours - or just cut to this moment if you want to see the treatment of a display parachutist who broke his leg while landing right in front of François Hollande.
posted by rongorongo at 2:25 AM on July 3, 2014

It's always funny to look at the lyrics of La Marseillaise given the modern reputation of the French; this is very plainly the song of the country that gave the world the modern mass-conscription army. I mean, qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons (so an impure blood will water our fields)? That's crazy violent imagery.

As for subversions of the anthem, after the destruction of the Paris Commune of 1871, Eugène Pottier wrote a poem to be sung over the lyrics of la Marseillaise — now famous with its own setting as L'Internationale. It's been the anthem of various socialist, communist and anarchist movements over the decades, and for a while was the unofficial national anthem of the Soviet Union.
posted by graymouser at 3:06 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I never knew the words to L'Internationale were meant for the tune of La Marseillaise.

I suppose there is also the intro to All You Need Is Love ... though I'm not sure I'd see that as a subversion, exactly.
posted by iotic at 3:48 AM on July 3, 2014

Here's a review of a biography of Gainsbourg that starts with a bit of context regarding the politics around his song. French paratroopers used to follow his band around trying to intimidate them into not playing it.

It's also the tune for team song of the Brisbane Lions (because formerly that of the Melbourne based Fitzroy Lions who merged with the Brisbane Bears) Australian rules football team. Many AFL teams have stolen tunes.
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:00 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I never knew the words to L'Internationale were meant for the tune of La Marseillaise.

Me neither - but here it is - ish (For comparison: L'Internationale with French words and English translation - normal tune).
posted by rongorongo at 4:14 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Side note: on the subject of working with "world" musical genres that Serge Gainsbourg was doing this many years before Paul Simon, The Clash, David Byrne and the others. Percussions came out in 1964 - the same year as "I want to hold your Hand": Joanna, Là Bas C'Est Naturel, Pauvre Lola, Quand Mon 6,35 Me Fait Les Yeux Doux, Les Sambassadeurs, New York USA, Couleur Café, Marabout...
posted by rongorongo at 5:26 AM on July 3, 2014

> for a while was the unofficial national anthem of the Soviet Union.

No, it was the official anthem from 1918 to 1944.

Great post!
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on July 3, 2014

I'll never forget that clip of him on a talk show with Whitney Houston, they should call him Serge Drunksbourg

Keep it classy Serge
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2014

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